Apart from his deep interest in literature and music, Bob Dylan has repeatedly expressed his admiration for cinema. In fact, he has directed some projects himself, including a a 1972 documentary called Eat the Document as well as his 235-minute long epic Renaldo and Clara – an experimental work which drew inspiration from the Beat Generation in America as well as the French New Wave.
While discussing cinema, Dylan cited the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and Sam Sam Peckinpah as the filmmakers who moved him alongside experimental auteurs like Andy Warhol. He also identified Jean-Luc Godard as a chief innovator, saying: “I figured Godard had the accessibility to make what he made, he broke new ground. I never saw any film like Breathless, but once you saw it, you said: ‘Yeah, man, why didn’t I do that, I could have done that.’ Okay, he did it, but he couldn’t have done it in America.”
Others have even gone as far as to say that the impact Godard had on the vocabulary of cinema can be compared to Dylan’s effect on the landscape of music. Quentin Tarantino, for one, famously commented: “To me, Godard did to movies what Bob Dylan did to music – they both revolutionised their forms”. However, none of the works of these aforementioned filmmakers were as impactful on Dylan’s life as the entries listed below.
Out of this collection, the cinema of Federico Fellini left a lasting impression on the musician who had the chance of watching them at a local arthouse theatre which screened French, Italian and German films. Scholars have always highlighted the carnivalesque sensibilities of Fellini and Dylan also noticed that right away. He wrote: “It looked like life in a carnival mirror except it didn’t show any monster freaks – just real people in a freaky way. I watched it intently, thinking that I might not see it again”.
Another revelatory experience that cinema imparted to Dylan was when he went to watch Nicholas Ray’s 1955 masterpiece Rebel Without a Cause, starring James Dean. Dylan’s biographer, Bob Spitz, noted that Dylan was “born-again” when he watched Rebel Without a Cause the year it came out. Dylan was only a teenager at the time which is why the film’s exploration of the disillusionment of youth completely mesmerised him.
Check out a list of the films that changed Bob Dylan’s life forever:
Bob Dylan’s 10 favourite movies:
- Rebel Without a Cause (Nicholas Ray, 1955)
- The Wild One (Laslo Benedek, 1953)
- Blackboard Jungle (Richard Brooks, 1955)
- Lonely Are the Brave (David Miller, 1962)
- A Face in the Crowd (Elia Kazan, 1957)
- La Strada (Federico Fellini, 1954)
- La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini, 1960)
- Children of Paradise (Marcel Carné, 1945)
- Shoot the Piano Player (François Truffaut, 1960)
- Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Richard Brooks, 1958)
Apart from the cinematic masterpieces and the pioneers mentioned above, Dylan was also a huge fan of two other geniuses – John Ford and Charlie Chaplin. Dylan claimed that America had made the greatest films in the history of cinema and John Ford’s work was the perfect example of that. Dylan insisted: “If film is the ultimate art form, then you’ll need to look no further than those films.”
However, the artist that influenced Dylan’s music as well was Charlie Chaplin who showed him that there was comedy inherent in the frameworks of the world. “[Charlie Chaplin] influences me, even in the way I sing,” Dylan said. “His films really sank in. I like to see the humour in the world. There is so little of it around.”